EDITORIAL: Droning on - Sunday, April 24, 2011

After Admiral Mike Mullen’s controversial visit to Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir has had an interaction with US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Mark Grossman, and by the time these lines appear, will probably also have met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. The Mark Grossman encounter yielded the usual soothing noise from both sides, revolving around both sides’ commitment to a long term strategic partnership and cooperation against terrorism. However, the fly in the ointment remains Pakistan’s increasingly assertive demand that US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas be halted, as they are counter-productive because of collateral civilian casualties. On that question, Mr Grossman could not be drawn in the two sides’ joint press conference.

Even while these discussions are on in Washington, a US drone has struck in North Waziristan, killing 25 people. The usual round of claims and counter-claims have followed, with the US anonymously (since they do not officially discuss drone strikes) claiming terrorists were hit, while local reports claim civilians were amongst the casualties, including some women and children. This latest drone strike underlines the difficulties in the way of a resolution of this vexed question, with the US adamant that drone attacks will continue on the argument that they are highly effective weapons against terrorists in FATA. There are reports that the US is contemplating a palliative in the shape of 85 unarmed smaller intelligence gathering Raven drones. Pakistan was earlier offered the longer range larger surveillance drones called Shadow, but that deal has been stymied by cost and delivery problems. Whether the Raven palliative will help ease the Pakistani angst against drone attacks remains a moot point however, since a concerted campaign is by now in evidence from the military establishment and right wing parties against their continuation. Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf is on the road with a caravan to Peshawar against the drone attacks and threatening a halt to NATO supplies through Pakistan unless its demand is conceded. It is no accident that the greatest enthusiastic receptions for his caravan have come from religious parties and groups along the way and expectedly at the final destination where a sit-in is planned. Since the right of the political spectrum is the most active on the streets at the moment, it is no surprise that they have achieved some mobilisation on the issue. Objectively, their actions, whatever the subjective intent, are likely to end up supporting the wishes of the military establishment and indirectly the jihadi forces.

Meanwhile an alarming development has been the attack on a border post in Dir from across the Afghan border that has claimed 16 security forces’ personnel dead, while the attackers are believed to have lost around 20. Local commanders claim the attackers are surrounded and cannot escape. The attack has been claimed by a faction of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and at the same time condemned by the US. This attack indicates that the apprehension that the TTP would sooner or later find safe havens across the border with the Afghan Taliban now seems a reality. Seen in the context of the impending endgame in Afghanistan, in which a share of power for the Taliban is being mooted, this development portends huge problems for Pakistan along the border if the TTP consolidates its toehold across the border and uses those safe havens to attack Pakistan. Hopefully, our security establishment will take note of this possibility and put pressure on its Afghan Taliban proxies not to allow any such toehold, now or in the future.

The essence of the differences that have emerged of late between the intelligence establishments of Pakistan and the US now seem to have travelled to the hitherto close relationship between the militaries of both sides. The increasingly assertive Pakistani demand to stop the drone attacks may not be conceded unless the US demand for a military operation in North Waziristan is offered as a quid pro quo. On the basis of the military establishment’s posture so far, this seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, leading to the conclusion that the soothing words in Washington notwithstanding, Pak-US relations seem premised on choppy sailing ahead. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: A legend moves on

A life taken away much too soon, laughter that still had to echo in a country of forgotten comedians and tears shed earlier than ever imagined — Moeen Akhter has left the Pakistan artistic landscape a lot more barren than ever. His untimely death at the age of just 61 on Friday has left the nation in a profound state of shock and sadness for he was a man of many versatile talents — some would say he was one of the original impersonators, defining benchmarks of quality.

Versatile to the core, Moeen Akhter was the king of laughter. He mastered many arenas from television to stage to stand-up comedy and came out as a winner in everything he did. His appearances in shows for Pakistan Television Network (PTV) such as Rozy, Half Plate, 50-50 and Loose Talk, made him a star and forever embedded him in the role of funny man. Moeen Akhter was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz and the Pride of Performance. To lose an artist of his standing and calibre is a tragic loss to the entire artistic community and the audiences that loved him so.

His death has once again reminded the nation that here, in the land of so many problems, the crises faced by the artists’ fraternity are characterised by neglect and arrogant dismissal by the powers that be. It is a sad truth that many actors (and other artistes) are conveniently forgotten once they are past their prime; many live alone, pensions are unheard of and old-age healthcare facilities do not exist. Just last week, another renowned comedian, Babu Baral, died in complete desolation of kidney and hepatitis problems. Famous actress and producer Shamim Ara’s grave condition after a brain haemorrhage was only noticed after media attention forced PM Gilani to visit the ailing actress in hospital. It is regrettable that our hardworking artists are forced to live in such decrepit conditions after contributing so much to bring a smile to the faces of so many.

While Moeen Akhter may not have been forgotten, he has been the latest in a spate of leading entertainment icons to have left us too soon. These men and women are the last reminders of the golden era of our film and television industry that is now committed to promoting nothing but quantity at the expense of quality. The legend will be missed. *

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\04\24\story_24-4-2011_pg3_1

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